WASHINGTON, DC — As certain as the pageantry of Mardi Gras infuses the party circuits each February on Capitol Hill, early February also marks the annual Walk on the Hill by the Gulf of Mexico’s primary seafood industry advocate.
Earlier this week, Gulf Seafood Institute commissioned a three-person lobby —GSI founder Harlon Pearce, founding board member Stan Harris, and executive director Margaret Henderson — to meet key Members of Congress, Senators and staff in 21 legislative offices about the fishery issues that impact their home states along the Gulf coast.
“What’s evident as we make these trips is that our trust and our credibility is super strong,” said Harlon Pearce. “People are excited to see us, plain and simple. GSI is always a positively-driven organization, always looking for solutions.
“Congress knows we’re the people to talk to; that’s why we have an open door,” Pearce said.
The annual mission was particularly important this year, the first of the 115th Congress and the Trump administration, which finds numerous first term legislators and agency officials exploring and expanding their interest in Gulf of Mexico issues.
“We have some strong new Members in the Gulf Coast Congressional delegation, and it’s critical that these leaders, both new and old, recognize the value of the seafood community and the jobs we make possible nationwide,” said Margaret Henderson, GSI’s executive director. “It’s important that the Delegation knows who to call when they’re dealing with fisheries issues.”
In each meeting, Henderson, Harris and Pearce focused on a compact number of issues that unite the Gulf seafood community and, collectively, can preserve the Gulf of Mexico’s vibrant seafood and fishing culture for generations.
Lawmakers learned about the Gulf Seafood Institute’s history and ongoing role as the chief advocate for the Gulf seafood and the entire supply chain, from retailers and processors all the way back to the fishermen, oystermen, shrimpers and others who harvest Gulf seafood and bring it to market.
This year’s walk focused on several key issues, including:
- The emerging opportunities and conversations surrounding Aquaculture in the Gulf. Pearce, Henderson and Harris provided an overview of GSI’s effort to educate key Gulf stakeholders on offshore aquaculture as a possible solution to meeting increased demand for Gulf seafood. This positive message was met with great support;
- The need to improve science and data collection in order to better manage Gulf fisheries. GSI urged legislators to focus on improving the fishery’s management challenges (e.g. red snapper seasons and sector allocations), with a focus on the development of a Gulf Science Center and greater efforts to support verifiable, real-time data collection for charter boats, headboats and commercial fishing operators.
- H-2B visas as critical to the preservation of American seafood jobs. Unfortunately, no office had a short-term solution to offer but all were aware and strongly supportive.
Pearce characterized the meetings as encouraging and productive. Most encouraging, he said, was the high degree of interest and knowledge of fishery issues each legislator brought to the table.
“And I was very surprised by the new congressmen,” Pearce said. “These new guys are so knowledgeable and so in tune with the direction we’re going in, they understand all the real deals,” Pearce said.
“We learn a lot every time we go. And we keep learning that these Walks on the Hill are important to the growth of the Gulf, not just GSI,” Pearce said.
A FULL WALK ON THE HILL, incorporating GSI’s entire membership, is being planned for this spring, likely April. GSI encourages all supporters of Gulf Seafood to become part of its growing advocacy efforts. Through increased participation, GSI expects to move closer toward its vision of making Gulf seafood available to all.
ON THE RECORD:
GSI met with the following legislators in person:
Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA)
Representative Garret Graves (R-LA)
Representative Ralph Abraham, M.D. (R-LA)
Representative Matt Gaetz (R-FL)
Senator John Kennedy (R-LA)
Senator Thad Cochran (R-MS)
Senator Roger Wicker (R-MS)
The following meetings were staff-only:
Senate Commerce Committee, Majority Staff
Senate Commerce Committee
Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL)
Senator Bill Cassidy (R-LA)
Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL)
Representative Martha Roby (R-AL)
Representative Clay Higgins (R-LA)
Representative Daniel Webster (R-FL)
Representative Charlie Crist (D-FL)
Representative Ted Yoho (R-FL)
Representative Brian Babin (R-TX)
Representative Kevin Brady (R-TX)
Representative Randy Weber (R-TX)